A new study by communication company Podium reveals that more people look at online reviews now than ever before.

A new study from Podium, a customer communication platform used by companies in the home furnishings industry, reveals that 88% of Americans believe that online reviews play a role in how they discover a new local business, and 71% believe that reviews matter more today than ever before.

“Companies need every advantage they can get right now, and the importance of positive online reviews can’t be overlooked,” said Eric Rea, co-founder and CEO at Podium. “Local businesses are impacted by online reviews more now than before the pandemic hit, and successfully managing reviews is an essential skill for any business, even those that do not primarily operate over the internet.”

Nearly 28% respondents said they had looked up online reviews for a business while standing in a parking lot or parked out front of a store when deciding whether or not to enter, with younger people more likely to use these types of reviews in making doorstop decisions.

The report also showed that 41% of Americans feel more compelled to patronize local businesses now than they did prior to COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 33% of people in the U.S. have found a new local business by their home that they didn’t previously visit.

Before the pandemic, the top three characteristics for online reviews included quality of service or products (80%), good prices (75%) and good customer service (75%). Those all dropped significantly during the pandemic as more people prioritized COVID-19 responses.

During the pandemic, 27% of people now say they believe that a company’s social distancing policies are among the most important characteristics when choosing a local business, roughly equal with the appearance of the store (28%), and above familiarity (21%) and loyalty (19%).

Leading the list of important retail characteristics are location (61%), price or promotions (55%) and personal recommendations (50%).

On a positive note, 45% of survey respondents who would normally leave a negative review would now consider holding off and being more patient during COVID-19, with the understanding that many local businesses have operational challenges right now.

At the same time, bad customer service was the No. 1 response (59%) when respondents were asked to pick a single reason why they might give a business a one-star review. Customers also said their opinions of a local business can change if the business responds to online reviews. More than half, 56%, of respondents said their perspective on a business shifted after a response to a review.

This nationally representative survey was conducted online within the United States from Oct. 9-21 among 1,543 Americans ages 18 and up.

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